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Leading Aircraft Cabin Design Firm and High-Performance Sheet Producer Team to Shape Future of Aircraft Interiors

Leading Aircraft Cabin Design Firm and High-Performance Sheet Producer Team to Shape Future of Aircraft Interiors

Leading Aircraft Cabin Design Firm and High-Performance Sheet Producer Team to Shape Future of Aircraft Interiors

Acumen applies new ideas in decorative finishes, textures and colors for aircraft seating, including translucent privacy divider, with Boltaron thermoplastic sheet. In photo is the Venus first class seating concept.

Leading Aircraft Cabin Design Firm and High-Performance Sheet Producer Team to Shape Future of Aircraft Interiors

Acumen ( is a UK-based transportation and product design consultancy and a global expert in interior aircraft cabin design. Having partnered with more than 20 of the world's leading airlines and their aircraft seating manufacturers, Acumen prides itself in delivering highly-innovative and often-patented product designs that are said to challenge current industry standards. Included is the groundbreaking 'bed in the sky' first launched on British Airways.

When designing premium seating solutions, Acumen typically turns to high performance thermoplastic sheet for components such as side furniture paneling, back-shelves (in first class), trays (economy class), literature pockets, entertainment screens, and first-class privacy screens.

A search for a "durable, aircraft-compliant, gloss black finish" for a new aircraft seating program initially led Acumen to U.S.-based Boltaron. In the last three years, Acumen developed several design concepts for interior aircraft applications for which Boltaron aircraft-rated thermoplastic sheet products are recommended.

Expanding design options

Acumen's Catherine Barber says: "The reason I work with Boltaron is that they are open to new ideas and innovations in decorative finishes. They understand the technical challenges, but are not closed minded to experimenting with new treatments and materials and providing customized solutions." She says this relationship expands Acumen's design options with a wide choice of colors, levels of gloss, patterns and textures including metallics and realistic woodgrains.

For another seating program, Acumen Design was in search of a pearlescent thermoplastic that would match the pearlescent paint finishes increasingly being used for seating programs. At the time, there were no such plastic sheet products on the market. "Boltaron sourced the special materials needed to produce exact color matches to paint finishes," according to Barber.

Applying contemporary finishes

Acumen Design and Boltaron are also developing completely new types of thermoplastic sheet for an Airbus 380 program. "For the first time, we can develop aircraft-compatible products that look like contemporary finishes currently used in high-end restaurants and hotel interiors," says Barber.

According to Barber, Acumen gains a broad standard range of textured sheet suitable for vacuum forming, allowing her "to add a subtle design element to what otherwise would typically be large expanses of plain plastic."

She says designers seek a texture range to add an extra dimension. "Plastic sheet need not mimic natural materials, but textures can be used to add interest. "While such finishes have long been used in automotive interiors, they have been relatively slow to reach aviation suppliers."

Manufacturing capabilities offer design options

Barber says she gains versatility with Boltaron's thermoplastic sheet manufacturing capabilities, which include extrusion, calendering and press laminating. Each of these processes produces a range of sheet products having distinct qualities. Sheet produced using more than one of these processes can be fused in-line or off-line to create a selection of composite sheet products that any single production process cannot achieve.

In extrusion, the original powder blend is converted into a molten plastic mass that is squeezed through a lip die, flattening the mass into a sheet of designated width and thickness. The process lends itself to multiple custom colors, textures and gauges.

Calendering produces a thinner gauge sheet than with extrusion. Molten plastic is fed into a series of heated revolving rollers that squeeze the material to the desired thickness. The resulting film can cap thicker-gauge extruded sheet to produce composite sheet products that offer superior aesthetics and/or properties including resistance to chemicals, impact, scratching and UV degradation.

Calendered cap films include integral metallics, and clear films that are reverse-printed with custom patterns such as woodgrains, pearlescent effects, abstracts, and woven looks. Substrate colors match the predominant printed color to render scratches inconspicuous.

In press laminating, multiple sheets of calendered or extruded sheet are layered and fused applying heat and pressure over relatively long cycle times to form one compact solid sheet. Individual sheets comprising the layers can be varied to provide coloration, patterns, texture, reinforcement or special properties.

Barber says, "Most sheet we apply is typically 2 to 3 mils (.08-.12 in.) thick for thermoforming of solid colors, and up to 6 mils (.24 in.) thick for clear sheet. The specification on sheet thickness is dependent on such key factors as the support of the structure and the rigidity of the part required."

Acumen's product design development

Acumen is known for applying customer knowledge and research to create designs that strike a balance between style and functionality. The firm achieves its designs through its product design development cycle in which the sheet product is applied at the last stage.

First, Acumen creates a 3-D CAD model that, once approved by the airline, is sent to various seating manufacturers who bid on the project.

Acumen then creates a prototype, typically of wood and foam painted with an emulsion coating, to provide a realistic representation of the product's appearance, passenger space, storage space and overall functionality.

A revised prototype may then be required as the design is further refined and perfected.

Finally, a pre-production (functional) model is fabricated by the seating manufacturer using the aircraft rated materials as recommended by Acumen, prior to full-scale production.


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